Exploring Songs of The Americas in Gaby Moreno and Van Dyke Parks ¡Spangled!

It’s quite captivating, that elegance which carries the delicate and earthy vocals that Gaby Moreno exudes in her music, the kind that provokes consideration for global perspectives. Moreno’s sounds have a tendency toward folk-driven pop, and are remarkable in their ability to connect so widely.

Before we get into our conversation with Gaby Moreno, which focuses on her latest recording #Spangled, let’s find out more about this Guatemalan powerhouse through videos.

Starting with a performance of Tiny Desk Concert in 2011, this video playlist includes the folksy “Ave que Emigra,” a sweet orchestral lullaby titled “Juegos y Miedos,” then some blues rock with, “Sing me life,” and ending with a sample performance of Live from Here.

In this last video, she explains how she came to hear about the great Koko Taylor and blues music in general, since it wasn’t something she’d ever heard growing up in Guatemala. This is a fiery, gritty and stellar interpretation of “Wang Dang Doodle.”

More recently, Gaby Moreno partnered with composer Van Dyke Parks to release a 10-track album that pays tribute to music from all over the western hemisphere, from the fruited plains to Venezuela and Brazil. Titled ¡Spangled! the album “chronicles and celebrates the migration of song across the Americas.”

This collaborative effort is a powerful presence among historical soundtracks as it doesn’t sway away from putting a spotlight on the current issues and hardships faced by migrants.

Recorded with a full orchestra, including chamber-sized wind and string sections, Dyke Parks invited seasoned musicians like Jackson Browne, Grant Geissman, Jim Keltner, Ry Cooder and marimba player Matt Cook, to join the project.

Via email in an interview with Michael Hill, the duo elaborates on the title, saying it is “the blending of Spanish and English, a nod to the sparkle of the orchestral arrangements and the shimmer of hope that can still be heard in our national anthem, despite the partisan din. […] a convergence of very different generations and backgrounds who found common ground in this Pan American songbook they both love.”

As far as the selection of songs, they explain “What’s a song from Venezuela that we could do? What’s a song from Puerto Rico? We were calling it our ‘Pan Americana’ album. We didn’t want to focus just on Latin America. We could use songs from the U.S. as well. I look at it as one continent, the Americas. It was important for me to bring those two together—and it was also important, because of these difficult political times we are going through, to speak about immigration.”

We spoke with Gaby over the phone in an interview on The Ponderers (Lumpen Radio 105.5FM) and began our conversation asking about her annual concert, Festival Acústico – Gaby Moreno y Amigos. You can listen to the full unedited conversation here

TP: You are the organizer behind the Festival Acustico – Gaby Moreno y Amigos, which takes place in Guatemala…

Gaby: Exactly! Yup!

TP: And you invite all these awesome artists to collaborate with you. Tell us a little bit more about that.

Gaby: Oh man, yeah, you know from being here in LA., and I’ve been living here now, Jesus, I can’t believe to even think about this, but I’ve been living here for almost two decades. And in all of those years I’ve seen so many incredible artists that have become friends. And you know, I feel so lucky and fortunate to know them and to be able to do something like this and put together a show in my country where I can expose audiences down there to new music but at the same time I can help a foundation that is really close to my heart. It’s called Fundal and they help kids who are blind and deaf. Every year we do it as a benefit for them. 

TP: How many years have you been doing it now?

Gaby: This is the 6th year now.

TP: I’m so glad and proud that a powerful woman is using her platform to not only expose new artists to other countries, you know, and other ears but also that you’re using it as a benefit to give back to where you came from.

Gaby: Yeah, it really is amazing. I feel so fortunate and so thankful to be able to do this to be able to help with my art and my music.

TP: I’m so excited to have you on the line. I’m a little bit nervous, haha. You know we love your music here on the show and we try to, well we advocate for femme-fronted musicians, groups and projects so it’s an honor to have you on the line. I also wanted to ask you real quickly because I know you’re busy about this new album, it’s called Spangled and it’s with Van Dyke Parks. And once we’re off the air we are gonna share Across the Borderline, featuring Jackson Browne, and I know this is a celebration of migration of song across the Americas. How did this concept come up?

Gaby: So VDP It’s a record we’ve been working on for almost 10 years. It’s a song that come from diff parts of the Americas. They’re song from brazil from Venezuela and from Puerto Rico and from guatemala. We kinda curated everything and decided to celebrate the different cultures of one continent, of like to think of America as one continent. I think there’s enough division going on in the world right now. It’s a beautiful thing to celebrate and I’m really excited about it. The songs are all orchestrated and I’ve never done a project quite like this before.

TP: It’s very orchestral as well…

Gaby: Yes…

TP: Is that something you were looking forward to incorporating?

Gaby: Yes, definitely, from the first moment that we met and we decided to do this album, we knew it was going to be full orchestration. Yeah, that makes it that much more special and different from any other record I’ve ever made. 

TP: Definitely. There’s songs, like you said, traditional songs but you are also going to share a new song on this album. Tell me about that… 

Gaby: It’s a really beautiful song and what we love about it and the reason why we decided to release it as a single is because it’s so relevant after all these years. It’s a song that’s almost 30 years old but it still resonates. It talks about the issue of immigration and I think that’s just something that’s never going to go away so we gotta keep talking about this. And for me, I just want to be a voice for my brothers and sisters and immigrants that are not being heard in these very difficult times.

To hear the rest of the conversation, press play on the Mixcloud link here beginning at the 1:20 mark.

Across The Borderline

About Gaby Moreno

Since moving to Los Angeles from her native Guatemala, singer-songwriter-producer Gaby Moreno has released 5 albums, earned a Grammy nomination for her album, Illusion (Best Latin Pop Album, 2017), an Emmy nomination (for co-writing the “Parks & Recreation” theme song), and won a Latin Grammy (Best New Artist, 2013).  In 2006 she took the Grand Prize in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, the first contestant in the Latin category to win Song of the Year (she’s now a judge). Gaby also sings the theme song and voices a character (Marlena) on the multi Emmy Award-winning Disney children’s television series, “Elena of Avalor,” which features Disney’s first Latina princess.

Her moving version of “Cucurrucucú Paloma” was chosen to play at the end of the emotional  episode “God Bless America” for the last season of Netflix’ original show, “Orange Is The New Black” .Moreno has shared the international stage with pop music luminaries such as Bono, Andrea Boccelli, Tracy Chapman, Ani DiFranco, Punch Brothers, Hugh Laurie, Buena Vista Social Club, Calexico, David Gray and many more.  More recently, she has appeared on Live From Here (hosted by five-time Grammy winner/MacArthur Genius, Chris Thile).

Her new album “¡Spangled!” – a collaboration with american musician, songwriter and arranger, Van Dyke Parks – will be realeased on Oct. 4th through Nonesuch Records (Metamorfosis in Latin America).
The ten-song set celebrates the migration of song across the  Americas and spans more than a century, including a bolero from Panama, a  bossa nova from Brazil, and an elegiac ballad from the Southwest United States—Ry Cooder, John Hiatt, and Jim Dickinson’s ”Across the Borderline,” performed with Cooder and Jackson Browne. The album also includes one of Moreno’s own songs as well as the previously released track “The Immigrants”  by Trinidadian songwriter David Rudder.

Website: Gaby Moreno Music